Two F-16s roared over Saturday’s Morris Plains Memorial Day Parade precisely at 10:25 am.
The awe-inspiring sound made one wonder: How must it have sounded when wave after wave of B-29 bombers — 525 of them — thundered over the battleship Missouri as a show of force during the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945?
One man at the parade had a pretty good idea: Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.) was mission commander for the flyover that signaled the end of World War II.
Mayor Frank Druetzler — delivering his final introduction to a parade he started 32 years ago– highlighted that flight in his remarks at Robert’s Garden.
But Vaucher teared up remembering a different mission.
It came to mind when Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26th Dist.) told the memorial gathering about the pride of Raritan, John Basilone, a Marine hero of Guadalcanal who died on Iwo Jima.
“I am standing here because Iwo Jima was taken by the Marines,” reflected Vaucher, 99. “Basilone was not the only one that died in that affair. Six thousand one hundred Marines died in that operation. If they hadn’t taken it, I wouldn’t be here.”
Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove:
The Bridgewater resident piloted 117 missions during the war.
Vaucher’s B-29 got shot up on one of them. He knew the aircraft, with 11 crew aboard, could not make it 1,500 miles back to the Mariana Islands, where the flight originated.
“Iwo Jima was 500 miles from Japan. I thought I could make Iwo Jima, and I did make Iwo Jima,” with a plane so badly damaged it had to be scrapped.
“So I remember Iwo Jima very, very, very well. I’m thankful to Basilone and the 6,100 Marines that lost their life there.”
Video: WWII bomber pilot looks back, at 99:
In fact, 6,800 Marines died taking the island. Its strategic importance was controversial. But not to Vaucher.
Some 72 B-29s landed on Iwo Jima the same day he did, he recounted. None would have made it home to the Marianas, “another 1,000 miles, nothing but water. The only emergency service you had was possibly ditching by a submarine, which were located at certain spots.
“But,” he noted with a spry grin, “that was problematical.”
Vaucher stayed in the reserves until 1962, and flew his own private plane until age 85. He gets around pretty well with a cane these days.
Morris Plains resident Howard Leach, who is active in the Civil Air Patrol and Shooting Star Chapter 195 of the Air Force Association, met Vaucher at the veteran’s 2013 induction into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame and invited him to the borough’s annual parade.
The morning flyover was courtesy of the Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, nicknamed the “Jersey Devils,” from Egg Harbor.
It was a highlight of a scorching start-of-summer ritual that concluded with hot dogs and cold birch beer at the VFW on Route 53.
Children scooped up candy tossed from some of the 88 organizations marching along Speedwell Avenue, and sat for face-painting and pony rides afterwards.
Grand Marshal Jack Van Orden was honored for a half century as a volunteer firefighter.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) was not among the assembled dignitaries, but two leading candidates to succeed him– borough resident Webber and Democratic challenger Mikie Sherrill — both were in the parade and worked the picnic crowd.
Memorial Day celebrations are, by definition, bittersweet. This one had an added measure of melancholy: Druetzler, 77, is ready to hang up his beloved Uncle Sam costume. He’s retiring from politics, and residents may have witnessed his last appearance on the reviewing stand of a parade he dreamed up in 1987.
“We’ll see. We’ll see next year,” the mayor said.
Video: The last parade? Mayor Frank Druetzler looks back:
The parade has given Druetzler many memories.
“But I think the favorite thing about this parade is it started so small, and we have grown now to be the largest in Morris County, which is an unbelievable thing, when I go back to that first parade. There weren’t very many people along the side, and now it’s always a lot of people,” he said.
Underlying it all, of course, is the reason for the costumes and the speeches and the flowers and the marching bands, the reason that veterans in their 90s brave temperatures in the 90s.
“It’s a day of recognition that a lot of people that went to war never came back. We should never forget that,” said Thomas Robert Vaucher, United States Army Air Corp, lieutenant colonel (retired).
“This is one way of keeping that on Topic A. Once a year it’s given its full dues. So I’m very happy to be here.”
Editor’s note: MorristownGreen.com was very happy to be there, too, and is grateful to all who marched with our Green Team. Many thanks to our adult division: Leslie Raff, Willa Hayes, and our precision ukulele drill team of Mark Dutton, Donna Williams and Bob and Francine. Special thanks to our banner-bearing kiddie corps: Anastasia and Arielle Adams, Dyllan Bass, Aurora Colindres, Adriana Vasquez and Becca Williams. And a big tip of the tricorn to MG photographer Jeff Sovelove and correspondent Bailey McGuinn.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin: